Defense lawyer may try to move Ribera teen's murder trial due to local publicity

Jul. 31—Joaquin Sanchez decided to ring in 2022 by hosting a small New Year's Eve party at his family's home in Ribera while his parents were out.

The teen had about a dozen young people over to celebrate.

Sometime in the night, an arrest warrant affidavit says, guests began throwing trash on the floor, and Sanchez became agitated. He went into his parents' bedroom, grabbed a hunting rifle and brought it into the kitchen, where he encountered Joshua Vigil, a West Las Vegas High School classmate and a fellow member of the Dons football team. According to the affidavit, he pointed the gun at Vigil — possibly believing it was unloaded.

It wasn't. Sanchez fired, the affidavit says, and Vigil, 17, was pronounced dead at the scene.

"He told me to shoot him," Sanchez told his mother while in earshot of New Mexico State Police, the affidavit says.

Sanchez, 19, has been on house arrest in his family's home since March. He faces a jury trial in September in state District Court in Las Vegas, N.M., on charges of second-degree murder and negligent use of a deadly weapon while intoxicated. The next step in his case, one that left a close-knit rural community shaken, is a pretrial hearing in mid-August.

Vigil's death is one in a string of high-profile teen firearm deaths in Northern New Mexico in recent years. In June, 18-year-old Estevan Montoya was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Santa Fe High School basketball star Fedonta "JB" White in 2020 at a party in Chupadero.

In another shooting earlier this month, recent Capital High School graduate Efren Sifuentes-Gallegos was charged with first-degree murder after he was accused of killing his friend — 18-year-old Andres Griego-Alvarado — outside a smoke shop on Airport Road.

Sanchez's defense attorney, Alan Maestas, said he might file a motion requesting the teen's trial be moved to another venue.

With all the publicity surrounding the case in San Miguel County — which Maestas said includes billboards, social media posts and online fundraisers — the attorney isn't certain he will be able to ensure a fair trial for Sanchez.

"My concern is whether or not we can get a jury that has not already taken a position about his guilt or innocence," Maestas said.

A Facebook page called Justice for Joshua Vigil has posted updates on Sanchez's court proceedings.

The page includes links to an online gun victim memorial and an online fundraiser to pay for a billboard calling for justice for Vigil.

"Joshua loved working with his dad, hanging out with his brothers, spending time with family, playing football, his [Ford] F-350 truck, riding his dirt bike, and cooking for his mom," one post on the page said. "Josh did not deserve to be murdered. He deserves justice."

Prosecutor Sherri Trevino declined to comment on Sanchez's trial.

During a virtual hearing in March, defense attorney Day Thornton argued against house arrest for Sanchez as he awaits trial, citing the teen's lack of history with "violence or aggression," court documents show.

Thornton also cited Sanchez's age — 18 at the time of the shooting — and said he "still has a life ahead of him."

Trevino reminded the court Vigil's life was taken on New Year's Eve.

"[Sanchez] took a life from someone who was young, and he also had a life to live," Trevino said, according to transcription of the hearing.

Judge Michael Aragon ruled Sanchez must wear a GPS tracker while under house arrest. He also suggested Sanchez log off all social media platforms due to potential threats made against him.

Sanchez has requested special permission to leave his confinement in Ribera twice since then, according to court records.

The first time was for recitation of the rosary and a funeral for one of his uncles, Maestas said.

The court granted Sanchez permission to attend both family functions. But an email exchange included in court documents shows Trevino was concerned Sanchez might interact at the services with people who would end up testifying at his trial, breaking a condition of his house arrest.

"I cannot do a 'no one can be there that can testify' because that may include his family," Maestas wrote in a response to Trevino. "To make that a condition so he can attend is tantamount to denying him permission to attend."

Maestas said in the interview he doesn't remember whether Sanchez attended either service but added the conditions placed on him likely made him decide not to go.

Sanchez again asked the court to let him leave Ribera in June to go to a doctor's appointment in Las Vegas — a request that was granted without opposition, court records state.